Almost one year ago, the Pima Council on Aging set up an office inside the Marana Community Food Bank on West Grier Road. This office is key to the council’s mission of reaching out to the elderly and the disabled in Marana. Every Tuesday, anyone can drop in and receive free consultations addressing a variety of issues.
Jennifer Caragan is one of PCOA’s client services specialists, and has worked with Marana residents at the food bank since it opened. It’s her job to advocate for these people and help make sure their needs are met. Since they set up shop northwest of their headquarters on East Broadway Boulevard, the Marana office has seen hundreds of clients.
“It’s been busy, there’s lot of people out here,” Caragan said. “We started off with just half a day, now we’re here the entire time that they’re open, 11 to 3.”
A major part of Caragan’s job is to explain and answer questions about Medicare and help clients start the process of enrolling in the program. She also helps elders figure out if there are any benefits they qualify for.
These benefits come from different federal, state and private agencies, and can help save seniors money on things like medication, housing, health care, insurance, food and more. Caragan said there are quite a few benefits people just don’t know about, or don’t know how to access.
If a client comes to her with a problem she can’t solve herself, Caragan said she will get them in touch with someone in the agency who is able to help.
“A lot of times it’s a lot of information referral,” she said. “I come with my printer, scanner, computer, internet—so I’ve got an office-on-wheels and anything I can access in my office I try to be able to access [in Marana] and give to the clients.”
Caragan also serves as an advocate for older clients to make sure they are treated fairly. She said the elderly get taken advantage of more than some might think, and she can help prevent them from being scammed.
“I don’t know the statistics myself but there are scams out there,” she said. “IRS scams are going like crazy, I get the phone calls myself from IRS scammers, and when you’ve got somebody who doesn’t know it’s a scam and they want to make sure their bills are paid—we’re pretty busy in that department.”Caragan said the best part of her job is being able to give clients a resource and see how much that can impact their life. Recently, she was able to mediate an issue between an elderly woman and her landlord to get her air conditioning working properly.
PCOA also has offices set up in Green Valley, Armory Park, Quincie Douglas Center, El Rio Neighborhood Center and other populated areas.
“We have staff that goes out into various locations around town because we want to make sure we’re in as many people’s neighborhoods as we can be,” said Lisa Reams, PCOA’s Vice President of Programs and Services. “Marana is an area that we’ve been wanting to have more of a presence in.”
According to Caragan, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona was in the process of revamping their Marana location a year ago when they added distribution offices on site. One of their goals was to have community services available to those in need, which is where PCOA fit right in. Like the food bank, the council has a hand in combating food insecurity; Caragan said she often helps people sign up for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Reams said that the council is definitely open to bringing more services to the Marana area. This month, PCOA is partnering with the food bank to bring a health management workshop to Marana residents. It’s a six-week course that counsels people who have diabetes to help them manage their symptoms, eat healthier and communicate effectively with their healthcare providers.
The council’s primary demographic is people ages 60 and over, although they are also eager to provide services for adults of any age with disabilities. Caragan accepts scheduled and walk-in appointments every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Marana Community Food Bank, located at 11734 W. Grier Road. Food donations are not required for appointments.
In addition to their multiple offices around town, PCOA has a helpline which allows people to call in and talk to a staff member who can provide them with information, referrals and other resources. The number is 790-7262. Visit pcoa.org for more information on any of the programs and services that are offered by the council.
Kathleen B. Kunz is a Tucson Local Media freelance reporter.